Tuesday, May 12, 2009

because you never know -- the intro to rad dad 13

Just a note to say that a bunch of local radical parents (including your very own Jeremy Adam Smith) will have a reading at Pegasus Bookstore in downtown Berkeley on June 14th at 5 pm -- spread the word and come out and say hi -- it should be a lot of fun! Here's my introduction to the newest issue of Rad Dad, nominated this year for an Independent Press Award for best 'zine:

Trust me. I was planning on writing this kick ass introduction for the fourth year anniversary issue of Rad Dad. The debut issue premiered at the 2005 SF Anarchist Bookfair (I make it sound all glamorous but really, I didn’t even have a table then, but occupied the free space outside the building). A lot of stuff has happened since then. I have met some amazingly inspiring and radical parents; the bookfair itself had evolved to include a kids’ space; last year we even had an anarchist parents panel! And, yes, now I have a table in the building. So I was all ready to write this articulate, perceptive, engaging manifesto on anarchism and parenting called A Primer on Potties, Procreation, and Politics. Or something clever like that. Trust me, I was.

But instead I find myself focusing on the little things. The small moments of fathering that bring my head and heart back to what is right in front of me. And upon reflection, I realize that it is in fact those very moments that all the theory and planning is put in to practice. It is in those moments we learn and test and reevaluate our values and morals; we discover our politics; we reveal on our honesty, our vulnerability, our humanity. What can be more radical than that? There is nothing wrong with theory and philosophy; in fact, I still want to write that manifesto, (someone out there wanna collaborate with me???) but for this introduction to Rad Dad 13, drummmrolll please, the anti-authoritarian anarchist zine on parenting, I simply want to share with you a few stories that for me get to the heart of this amazing, challenging, never static position we parents find ourselves in:

That coulda been…

Just two days before my daughters and I are leaving on a 5 week trip to southeast Asia, I hear a call come into my home phone. It’s a collect call. My heart freezes; it’s from my son, who is being held in county jail, no longer a juvenile but now an eighteen year old “adult.” I’m frustrated and confused. I can barely find out what happened because the cops are arrogant and condescending in my attempt to check on his situation and well-being. No help, no sympathy. I am told that after he tried to evade police, they “subdued” him. Subdued?! What the fuck does that mean? I ask if he is hurt in any way. The officer says, ‘I looked at his mug shot and his face seems fine. Just a bloody nose.’ I can’t even talk to my son about what happened because the phones are monitored.

Then there are the other questions: should we still go? should we change our plans? After much discussion, we depart leaving his mother and the rest of our community to handle the situation, which doesn’t appear to be over any time soon.

We had been in Thailand for just a week. It was a few days after New Years. We were at the point of feeling a bit homesick, missing our home in Berkeley and Oakland, when a person whom we met on the road says, damn you folks in Oakland are crazy.

Oscar Grant had been murdered, and in the aftermath, the people in Oakland took to the streets. Not knowing anything abut the situation, we make our way to an internet café and watch the video of his murder and of the protests on the streets of our home. My kids and I are stunned. We look at each other; we are all angry and horrified. There is nothing to say really. Until Ella, my youngest asks, how old was he?

Twenty two, I say.

Why’d they shoot him?

I shake my head.

Why does this happen? she asks.

At this point in her life, she knows me and knows my by now predictable stance on police brutality, on the need to rethink our criminal justice system and its affects on young people and people of color.

But what can I say now?

I don’t know why this happens, I respond.

She says that coulda been Dylan, that coulda been our brother.

I know, I say.

I know.

Kow Jai

After a few weeks of traveling, my daughters and I had the chance to meet up with Julia, a woman we meet earlier in our trip through a friend and who helped us out while we were in Bangkok. When we first met, I had been feeling a bit overwhelmed, and she was a blessing, showing us around the city for a couple days, making us feel at home. Her generosity really helped calm and relax me, something I needed after dealing with the stress of my son in jail and the reality of jet lag and the 15 hour time difference that hit me like a punch in the face (though my kids seemed amazingly unaffected!)

So we’re all there joking and feeling good; but it’s her laugh that is so amazing. It’s the best laugh: loud, guff, like a punchline. When she laughs, all three of us look at each and laugh even harder. To make matters worse, she speaks exactly like Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin; I can’t listen to her without smiling. The shitty thing I realize is that she’s the exact kinda person -- white, from the Midwest, dreads, yes dreads, hippie girl -- I would probably roll my eyes at, make some hasty generalization about with in earshot of my kids.

And my kids would hear and listen.

Yet when I, a complete stranger, needed some help, she was there, genuinely, asking no favor, nor thanks.

We we’re sitting around, telling stories over iced coffee - yes my daughters convinced me that they should be able to drink iced coffee while in Thailand -- don’t ask me how – discussing the differences we noticed between Thais and people in California. It just so happens, she’s is also tutoring this 13 yr old Thai girl who had asked the same exact question that morning. Julia says she’s not sure what the difference is and perhaps there really is no difference between us all. (I said she’s a hippy right)...

And then Ella shares with us all the Thai phrases she’s taught herself from her little Thai phrase book. After a few, she shares this one: ‘I don’t understand’ in Thai is ‘mai kow jai.’

Julia asks, so you wanna know what that literally means. It means ‘it has not entered my heart.’ Jai means heart and Kow means to enter or come into.

She smiles and I turn to her and ask, so when you wanna say ‘I understand’ you are saying: ‘it has entered my heart’?

That’s so amazing.

Oh yeaaah, she says, Thaïs always talk about their heart.

I say, that’s so opposite of us; we always talk about the mind. When do we ever talk about heart?

We both smile and she takes out her journal and writes a note about this to share with her student.

I look at my kids sipping their coffee and say: Ella and Zora kow jai. Kow jai.

Jai. Heart.

Why we do what we do

Here’s my favorite story from our travels. We were on a boat traveling between islands in the southwest of Thailand. The night before we had been struggling over the reality that my children were assigned homework to do while they were traveling. And not just some – shit loads. The school district doesn’t seem to think that they will learn anything outside of a classroom, regardless of the fact that the kids learned more about life in those five weeks than what could possibly be covered by the California state grade standards.

For example: the exchange rate for the Cambodian Riel is 4,226.87 for 1 dollar. Try figuring out how much a meal is when the bill’s 47,500 Riels? They learned phrases of Thai and Cambodian. They witnessed the social realties of global poverty. And talk about gender. Try explaining why we kept seeing signs about the dangers of “sex tourism” as well as the preponderance of so many older white men with super young Thai women.

Kids see a lot.

So as we were on the boat, we saw these fish jumping out of the water and flapping their little fishy wings like they were flying. We were amazed at them, whole schools jumping out and flying. I asked my youngest daughter why she thought that they evolved that way? What makes them do it? She shook her head and guessed that maybe they were escaping predators. I said, or perhaps it’s to see other fishies they wanna eat. Or maybe to breathe, she guessed.

Feeling like a good teacher helping my children rationally examine the world through the good ol’ scientific method, I turned to my middle child happily sitting there, head in a book, and I asked her why she thought they did that.

She looked at me and then looked out over the water and then without the slightest bit of hesitation said simply: because it’s fun. She returned to her reading.

I smiled. Yes. Because it’s fun.

It’s true: sometimes we do things because it’s fun.

Because it feels right.

Sometimes, there is no better reason.

So one of these next issues, I will address the historical implications of anarchist tendencies in regards to the notion of discipline. Or, How to Say ‘No’ the Anarchist Way. But for now, I am doing this because it feels right.

Because it’s fun.

Because it has entered my heart.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

beautiful! look forward to checking out more. love the idea of understanding and heart. will let that marinate and incorporate!